Advice for those starting out in the PR industry

Years ago, I asked my father for advice about a situation I was faced with in my early career. He turned to me and simply said, "You know what to do."

Years ago, I asked my father for advice about a situation I was faced with in my early career. He turned to me and simply said, “You know what to do.” And he was right.

Most people don't listen to their gut enough and have the courage or confidence to believe in themselves and act accordingly. I listened to my instincts, and now I'll share some of what I've learned after 36 years in the PR business as president of JMPR Public Relations – a lifestyle, consumer, and transportation agency in Los Angeles.

1. Don't forget that PR is about people. Never turn down a face-to-face meeting and remember that email should only be used after you establish a relationship. Often the arch of an eyebrow or the scratching of a head can tell you more than an email or even a phone call ever could. New technology doesn't take the place of getting to know a client. Social media shouldn't be used as the primary source of information to keep tabs of what's going on behind the scenes.

2. Always have a contingency plans in place. My favorite cliché is that “Murphy was an optimist.” When it comes to PR, what can go wrong, will. It's up to you to plan for any issues that arise then activate a quick fix, while informing the client of the situation along the way.

3. Don't run from a challenge or hide when something goes wrong. Embrace the situation, strategize your next steps, and stay calm under pressure. Well-handled crisis' and challenges are what builds real trust between a PR firm and its client. Anyone can take credit for great work, but PR executives that convey transparency and honesty when things aren't going well are often the ones I see go the furthest in their careers. These are the people who are respected and ultimately looked to as advisers by their clients.

4. Know the world in which your clients operate. Read everything about their industry and keep them posted on important news because clients don't always have the time to do so themselves. Become your client's eyes and ears so you can be ready with answers and show your client that you “get it.” As a PR professional, you're in the information business, so keep yourself and the client informed.

5. Forget emailing and demonstrate the human touch with the small things. Send handwritten birthday cards, thank you notes, and congratulations or condolence cards whenever appropriate. These people gave you their business to promote, so take the time to put pen to paper. It's the right thing to do. Be a real person to them.

6. Find common ground. People want to relate to each other – even to us, PR people! This is where long-standing client-agency relationships are born and cultivated. Let your clients know who you are and how your hobbies intersect with theirs. One way to do this is to take off your business hat and take your significant other out to dinner with your client and his or hers. Pick up the check and let the conversation flow between everyone at the table. Things happen!

7. Be honest with yourself about what your weaknesses are and hire to those. Don't create clones of yourself, as an agency principal or manager, you want a well-balanced team that is strong where others – including yourself -- are not. Over the last 36 years, my agency has been successful by cultivating an ensemble cast; everyone contributes something unique to the team.

8. Always pay tribute and remember who gave you your first breaks in the industry. All it takes is one person to see a light in you or one person to take a chance on you, to get you in the game. In return, pay it forward. Become a mentor to someone starting out in the field so you can pass on your well-earned knowledge.

9. Believe in karma and never burn a bridge. In this business, what goes around comes around, so make sure karma doesn't hit you in the behind. Try not to wish your competitors, former clients or old co-workers ill will. In the end, I've found life takes care of those situations so just sit and wait. Time changes everything and you never know who will be knocking on your door again for a position or account work.

10. If you can afford to do so, always buy your clients' goods and services, or at the very least, find a way to experience them. If you “drink the Kool-Aid” and believe in the brands you've been hired to publicize, you'll understand your clients DNA and know it in your sleep.

Joseph Molina is JMPR Public Relations.

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